Elevated Edibles: The Pot Brownie Grows Up

Forget everything you think you know about the pot brownie—edible cannabis products have finally gotten good
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 
Cupcake Royale's Jody Hall and Nicki Kerbs have cooked up a side industry of cannabis-infused cookies and sweets through The Goodship Company

Whether or not you’ve tried one, you’ve probably heard a horror story about a homemade cannabis confection: It had a funky, vaguely vegetal and overly sweet flavor; or a strange texture; or perhaps it delivered a dramatically, and occasionally dangerously, inconsistent high. You might have been willing to suffer through this kind of experience as a college student, but just as you’ve graduated from getting drunk on Goldschläger to sipping a fine wine with dinner, you may expect more these days from a cannabis edible.

Luckily for you, if you’re into this sort of thing, the edible industry has grown up. With the legalization of marijuana in Washington state—recreational sales to the public started in 2014—sophisticated edibles can now be discussed, and enjoyed, in the same way that coffee or cocktails are. And as with coffee and cocktails, evaluating the merits of a particular edible is as much about the ingredients and the flavor as it is about how it makes you feel. The hesitation for many new consumers is due both to inexperience and to a lack of knowledge about what they’re getting themselves into. Here in Seattle, two local brands—among more than 50 producers in the state—put pastry pedigrees first and are paving the way for edibles to come into the mainstream.  

Deep in an unmarked sodo warehouse, Jody Hall is hard at work destigmatizing cannabis, one incredibly delicious snickerdoodle and chocolate bar at a time. As The Goodship Company’s captain, Hall, a well-known figure in the land of Seattle sweets since she launched Cupcake Royale in 2003, is the right person for the job.


Photograph courtesy of Goodship
The Goodship Company’s pre-packaged cookies are infused with 10 milligrams each of THC

She applied to become a cannabis retailer at the urging of a friend. She hadn’t even told her wife about her new venture when a local blogger found her name in public records and broke the news. It had a surprising effect: Many people she knew “came out of the closet” as cannabis consumers, Hall says, and asked her to make consistent, delicious products that they could share with friends. They asked for just enough marijuana in these products for the consumer to feel connected and present but not totally stoned. “I think to take all that brand trust and love that we’ve built in the community and be able to move into Goodship has been really interesting,” she says. “It really hasn’t had any blowback on Cupcake Royale at all.”

Although Hall’s approach to The Goodship mirrors her mission for Cupcake Royale—to produce tasty treats in as socially and environmentally responsible a way as possible—the means to the end differ significantly. Yes, Hall and her team, including head baker and director of operations Nicki Kerbs, are trying to source weed that’s grown under the same fair, organic conditions as their flour. But the federal government still considers marijuana a Schedule I drug, in the same category as heroin, LSD and ecstasy, even though it’s legal in the state. Learning to navigate the maze of federal rules and regulations has made pioneers of Hall and the other 50-plus Washington businesses in this industry.

And then there’s the matter of baking with the stuff. The Goodship uses an ethanol-based cannabis extract purchased from a third-party producer. As with vanilla, it’s incorporated into cookie batter in a 60-quart Hobart mixer after creaming the butter and sugar but before eggs are added. Unlike vanilla, it’s incredibly potent—stick your finger into the pure extract and “you’d have a very, very bad day,” says Goodship baker Stephen Fogg.

From a baker’s perspective, both the potency and the federal regulations make a few things difficult, and not just because you’re not allowed to swipe a mouthful of cookie dough whenever you want. The extract must be completely, homogeneously incorporated, says Kerbs. Two samples per batch must be sent for dosage testing (each cookie or chocolate bar is not to exceed 10 milligrams; The Goodship’s line of dinner mints are micro-dosed at 2.5 milligrams), and if the extract is unevenly combined, the whole batch often has to be tossed. That’s an expensive and time-consuming mistake, as this stuff can’t just be thrown into the compost pile. Per regulations, any product that isn’t up to standards—Goodship’s or the government’s—has to be broken up and combined with 50 percent inedible material such as mulch.

In this effort, The Goodship is producing something unlike what you may have experienced in your college dorm room. Kerbs worked with a food scientist from Oregon Health & Science University to create recipes that are shelf-stable for as long as six months with no preservatives. Snickerdoodle, chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookies taste chewy and fresh—great packaged cookies by any standard—and the chocolates are creamy and indulgent (I particularly enjoyed the coffee and dark chocolate bar). My palate couldn’t detect any cannabis flavor. Hall says that’s the point: “We want a really delicious product that just happens to have marijuana in it.”

In other edibles, that flavor is made deliberately more prominent. BotanicaSeattle, also located in an unmarked SoDo warehouse, has multiple brands of edibles, each with a different approach. The label’s Spot line of baked goods—brownies are the most popular, obviously—and candies have a noticeable marijuana flavor, particularly in the tiny, potent fruit chews. But just because the company wants you to recognize its product as a cannabis cookie doesn’t mean it shouldn’t taste good, says Lena Davidson, who handles market relations (and a host of other duties). “I want people to feel like they deserve a positive experience of the cannabis edible from beginning to end. Anything else than that is cheapening your own enjoyment.”


Photograph courtesy of BotanicaSeattle
BotanicaSeattle Spot chocolates are made with different strains of cannabis for varied effects

Instead of extract, BotanicaSeattle purchases harvested plants to infuse the cannabis butter that’s used in brownies, cookies and chocolates. Because the company has established relationships with marijuana farms, it’s planning to soon launch a line of single-origin chocolate/single-origin cannabis bars under the label High Minded Edibles. Right now, the most high-end chocolates are branded as Proper Chocolates—try the caramelized whiskey ganache in dark chocolate—a line of truffles designed by head chocolatier Hilary Brown, former pastry chef for Tom Douglas restaurants.

BotanicaSeattle is also one of the few bakeries that actually labels the strain of marijuana used in its Spot line of products. (Indica is the variety known for its calming properties; sativa is considered more energizing.) Research suggests there isn’t a noticeable distinction between strains when your body digests THC (the active component of marijuana) rather than inhales it. Davidson says having a sense of security in the product can affect a positive high, though.

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